Wednesday, January 11, 2012

New Album Review: Liszt Lieder

Click to sample and buy the album

This album of Liszt songs sung by soprano Diana Damrau accompanied by pianist Helmut Deutsch comes to us at the end of the Liszt anniversary year. It’s one of those rare albums that present relatively unfamiliar music by a very well known composer in performances that may not ever be surpassed.

Liszt wrote approximately 80 songs, mostly setting German texts (Schiller, Heine, Goethe, Lenau are the noteworthy poets here) but also Italian (Petrarch), Hungarian, Russian and even English. It’s difficult to say why his songs aren’t more popular. Certainly his other works overshadowed them, but as Andrew Huth points out in his excellent liner notes, the songs are also quite difficult. The difficulty factor doesn’t seem to faze Damrau who sings these songs magnificently. Damrau’s top notes have a luster and pointed quality that are unsurpassed by any soprano today. Listen to her sustained, solid top notes in “Bist du!”(You are) and you’ll know what I mean. There’s no disputing the tonal beauty and technical precision of her voice, but that isn’t enough to carry the day in a 19-song recital. Damrau is dramatically astute at every turn. “Der drei Zigeuner” (The three gypsies) is vividly characterized as is “Der Fischerknabe” (The fisher lad), a seemingly innocent tale that takes a dark turn.

Deutsch is much more than an accompanist. As you would expect, Liszt’s accompaniments are frequently big time knuckle busters. Deutsch nails the gypsy melodies in “Der drei Zigeuner” but also plays with sensitivity in his depiction of bells in “Ihr Glocken von Marling” (Ye bells of Marling).

This is a major league recital by a golden age singer and an intelligent and talented pianist. I can think of no better album for putting a big exclamation mark on the close of the Liszt anniversary year.

Click to sample and buy the album

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